Phoenix Lander Prepares for Microscopy, Wet Chemistry on Mars

Phoenix's robotic arm carries soil sample This photograph shows the Robotic Arm on NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander carrying a scoop of Martian soil bound for the spacecraft's microscope. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
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June 23, 2008

TUCSON, Ariz. -- NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has delivered a scoop of Martian soil from the "Snow White" trenches to the optical microscope for analysis tomorrow, June 24, the 29th Martian day of the mission, or Sol 29.

And the Phoenix lander will position its Robotic Arm to deliver some of that same scoop of soil for its first wet chemistry experiment on the Red Planet in the next day or two.

Scientists did a diagnostic run today that melted ice to water for Phoenix's first wet chemistry experiment. The water is part of the wet chemistry laboratory and comes from Earth.

The laboratory, not yet used on Mars, is designed to test soil for salts, acidity and other characteristics, much like garden soils are tested on Earth. Phoenix's wet chemistry laboratory is part of the suite of tools called the Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer, or MECA.

"The water in the wet-chemistry cell is frozen, and before we do an experiment we have to make sure that it's totally thawed," Phoenix co-investigator Sam Kounaves of Tufts University, wet chemistry laboratory lead, said. "It's like pouring a known amount of water from a beaker when you're doing a chemistry experiment -- you have to use all the water for your experiment to work."

"We are good to go," said Michael Hecht of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, lead scientist for Phoenix's MECA instrument. "We made liquid water on Mars for the first time for our test."

The Phoenix mission is led by Peter Smith of the University of Arizona with project management at JPL and development partnership at Lockheed Martin, located in Denver. International contributions come from the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark; Max Planck Institute, Germany; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute. For more about Phoenix, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/phoenix and http://phoenix.lpl.arizona.edu.

Media contacts: Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov

Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

Sara Hammond 520-626-1974
University of Arizona, Tucson
shammond@lpl.arizona.edu



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